Catholic church leaders appealed for peace in the wake of the bomb explosions that hit the southern Philippine province of Sulu, killing at least 15 people, including soldiers and civilians, on August 24.
In a statement, Bishop Charlie Inzon of Jolo called for an end to violence as authorities blamed extremists for the latest violent attack that hurt at least 75 people.
State security forces said the twin bombings were similar to the Jan. 27, 2019, explosions that killed at least 20 churchgoers inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo town.
The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the 2019 attacks.
“[The pandemic] is already a terrible burden we carry daily,” said Bishop Inzon. “Spare us from yet another tragedy. God help us,” he added.
The prelate has just assumed his post as Apostolic Vicar of Jolo on July 16, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of the vicariate.
The bishop, meanwhile, appealed to authorities to study carefully the steps that they would take in the province following the attacks.
The presidential palace in Manila announced on August 26 that President Rodrigo Duterte is considering recommendations by security forces to place the entire Sulu province under martial law.
“It would be good if [authorities] would also consult … the local government, civil society organizations, and religious groups,” said Bishop Inzon.
The prelate said “community support and cooperation are important” to achieve peace.
Meanwhile, the Philippine office of the papal charity organization Aid to the Church in Need said “no reason can justify” the attacks in the town of Jolo in Sulu.
“Those responsible for these atrocities are cruel and ruthless, devoid of any ounce of humanity or respect for life and property,” said the group in a statement.
“This crime is even rendered more unconscionable because of the hardships our people are going through during the pandemic,” it added.
The organization expressed its sympathies to the families of the victims and demanded justice as it “fully supports” the government’s investigation into the incident.
Investigators said the first explosion on August 24 happened on Serrantes Street in Walled City village in Jolo town before noon.
The second explosion occurred about 100 meters away at past one o’clock in the afternoon.
The attacks were reportedly carried out by two female Abu Sayyaf suicide bombers.
Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, commanding general of the Philippine Army, said one of the bombers was probably the Indonesian wife of the first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, who blew himself up outside a military camp in Sulu in 2019.
Jolo town is located in the province of Sulu, one of a chain of islands in the southwest of the country and a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The bomb attacks on August 24 were among at least six suicide bombings in the past three years, a mode of terrorist attack previously not done in the Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf Group has been notorious for kidnappings, robberies, and deadly bombings.
Early this month, authorities arrested an Abu Sayyaf leader in the city of Davao, hometown of President Duterte, also in the southern Philippines.